Signs indicate the Iraqi government and the Coalition are putting additional pressure against Muqtada al-Sadr and his radical Mahdi Army
The fighting between the Iraqi Army and the forces of Iranian backed radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army earlier in the week has increased the tensions between the government and the militia. The battles in Diwaniyah resulted in fifty Mahdi militiamen killed, twenty troops from the Iraqi army, and up to 80 civilians dead. One day after a truce was called in the town of Diwaniyah, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed has called it off. According to AFP, “13 of the military’s dead had been ‘executed’ by the militia fighters,” and Mohammed “demanded that this be investigated while an ‘extraordinary security plan’ [is] implemented in the city.”
The disproportional casualties taken by the Mahdi Army in Diwaniyah is a black eye for Sadr. Reader DJ captures this sentiment in the comments section of yesterday’s post, The Battle for Baghdad Continues. The Mahdi Army took disproportional losses, fought in a residential area and were forced to withdraw under the watchful eye of the Iraqi Army (edited):
This is a serious loss for the Mahdi Army and does not help Sadr because:
1. This was a poor showing of force by the Mahdi Army and will hurt recruiting and support.
2. The use of human shields indicates weakness and will hurt recruiting and support.
3. The Mahdi Army may have not formally surrendered but, the Iraqi Army supervising their withdraw says it all. They lost.
4. And the Mahdi Army made the point that they need to be suppressed. The political reaction will be interesting.
Watch the attacks on “Death Squads”, “Thugs”, “Kidnap Squads”, etc, that happen to be Mahdi increase…
It should be noted that Sadr’s popularity fell after using the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf as a battle position in the fall of 2004. His popularity only rose in 2005 after it became evident the Iraqi government and Coalition were unwilling or unable to hold him accountable for his actions.
Since the spring of this year, the Iraqi government and the Coalition have been slowly chipping away at Sadr’s power base in Baghdad and southern Iraq. A raid on a Sadr husseiniya in in the Ur Hayy district of Baghdad in March of 2006 was followed by a strike against death squad commander Abu Duri and an operation against the Sadrain mosque in Zafaraniya in July, and a series of operations in August. Couple this with the threat to remove ministers loyal to Sadr from Maliki’s cabinet, and the stage is set for Iraqi and Coalition forces to begin operations against Sadr.
Coalition officers have been signaling for some time that Sadr City will be brought under the control of the central government. At General Casey’s recent press briefing, the question the importance of securing Sadr City’s during the course of Operation Together Forward arose once more:
QUESTION: I just want to ask a question that kind of combines the militia issue with the cordon-and-clear issue, and that is Sadr City. We know — it’s a place that we know to be, you know, heavily under Mahdi Army control. It could result in a confrontation. Do you have different plans for running this operation in Sadr City?
GEN. CASEY: Yeah, I’m not going to talk to future operations. But I think, as I mentioned, this — all our operations against armed groups, and particularly militia, will have a military and a political component. That’s really all I want to say about our future plans for Sadr City. Did I say a military and security component?
I meant a military and a political component. That’s what I said.
Notice how careful General Casey was to correct an error he did not initially make. While there is no doubt a political dimension is important in removing the threat of the Mahdi Army, perhaps General Casey’s focus on the “military and security component” was a Freudian slip.
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